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Dogs are for life. Think carefully. Choose wisely. Love deeply.

A dog is going to have a huge impact on your daily life. A dog will entertain you, keep you company, enrich your life, and likely even improve your mental and physical health. In exchange, he or she is going to need a lot of your time and attention!

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Far too many people don’t take the time to research and reflect before getting a dog. Many of the dogs in animal shelters were once cute puppies bought on a whim by well-intentioned people who later realized that having a dog just didn’t jive with their lifestyle. (Read more about why people end up surrendering their dogs to shelters here.) LINK to “When dog-buyers make bad decisions..” page

Having to give up a pet can be a heartbreaking experience. You can save yourself that potential pain now by carefully considering whether you have the time, money, energy, space, desire, patience, and lifestyle to make the commitment of being a full-time dog owner.


Reality check: Is a dog right for you, right now?

To help decide whether a dog will fit well into your life, here are a few key questions to ask yourself:

How well do you know dogs?

If you grew up in a family that had dogs, or have close friends who are dog owners, you probably have a good sense of what dogs are like and the amount of responsibility that comes with owning one. But if you haven’t had a lot of interaction with dogs in your life, you should start out by spending some time with dogs (you could volunteer to walk dogs at your local humane society or SPCA). You should also spend some time reading about and/or talking to dog owners about what life with a dog entails.

Why do you want a dog?

For companionship? For protection? To exercise with you? To participate in dog sports? To teach the kids responsibility?

These can all be good and valid reasons. But a word of caution about getting a dog for the kids: getting a pet should be a family decision. Kids older than 7 can help care for a dog, but an adult must have the ultimate responsibility. Once the novelty of playing with a dog wears off, your kids might not be as helpful as they’d promised they’d be. You’ll probably be the one doing all the feeding, walking, poop-scooping, and doggie training.

Are you in it for the long haul?

Dogs are for life. Your relationship with your dog may well outlast some of your jobs, cars, and even romantic relationships. Dogs generally live for 8 to 14 years. So if you want a dog, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.

Do you see any big life changes on the horizon?

Do you foresee any of the following changes in your life over the next decade or two?

  • Increased hours of work, school, social life, recreation, volunteering, etc.
  • Beginning or ending a relationship
  • Having kids
  • Moving somewhere that doesn’t accept pets
  • Loss of income
  • Moving overseas
  • Health challenges
  • Major renovations

If you answered yes to any of the above points, it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. But you should be realistic now about a dog’s needs and how you’ll be able to provide long-term commitment.


SIDE BOX: The importance of exercise

A tired dog is a good dog! One of the most important things to be aware of when thinking of getting a dog is its exercise needs. Fido needs at least an hour of good exercise every day (in some cases more) to stay healthy and happy. It could be running, a long walk (preferably off-leash), playing with other dogs, or retrieving a ball.

Not having enough time to give a dog the exercise it needs is one of the top reasons given by people who surrender their dogs to shelters.


Can you afford it?

Fido is going to need a safe, secure home to live in, supplies like food and toys, and regular veterinary care for the duration of his life. And you’re going to have to cover the cost! Click here for an overview of the minimum annual costs of owning a dog.

Fido’s turn to ask a few questions

I’m so excited to find my new best friend! But I’ve heard some of you 2-leggers say you think us dogs can be demanding — clingy, even. I want to make sure we start things off on the right paw, so I’m gonna have to ask you some tough questions to see if you could really be my best friend!

  • They say I’m a “pack animal” and that means what I want most is companionship. Will you be there for me, every day? Will you give me affection and play with me regularly?
  • Will you get me some cool toys too, so I can amuse myself when you’re not home?
  • I love to get out and explore, so will you take me for walks at least twice a day, rain or shine?
  • I know you have to work so you can afford to pay for all my things. But if you have to go all day, we can spend time together in the evenings, right?
  • Or maybe you could get me a dog walker or send me to a doggy daycare to play during the day — yippee!!
  • I’ll always sleep inside with you, right? Please don’t make me stay outside. (Unless I’m a Nordic breed like a husky, in which case I might prefer to be outside!)
  • Do you have a safe, fenced backyard? If not, are you ready to take me for a walk every time I have to pee?
  • If you live in an apartment or condo, am I allowed?  I don’t wanna live undercover!
  • Will you take me to school to teach me good manners so that everyone will like me? Maybe some cool tricks too. I really wanna be a good Fido.
  • Can we go to places like dog parks where I can meet other Fidos too?  That’s so much fun!
  • I hope you won’t get mad at me if I make mistakes (like chewing your shoes or messing in the house).
  • And you’re not a total clean freak, right? You won’t get mad at me if I shed a little (okay, a lot!) or I goober on your clothes?
  • Will you groom me regularly, so my fur doesn’t get all tangled and matted? That can really hurt, ya know.
  • Will you get me yummy, healthy food, and treats too, and a comfy bed, and toys?  Did I already say toys? I love toys!
  • I’ll need a really nice doctor who’ll give me regular checkups. You should check out pet insurance to help you budget for when I get sick or have accidents.

I know, it’s a lot eh? But I’m so worth it!

Plus I just think our relationship will be way better if we start it off being completely honest with each other about our needs. Don’t you?

Ready for the next step?

Next up: advice on how to pick the right kind of dog for you(LINK to Choosing Your Fido).

Not sure?

If you think you’re ready for a dog but aren’t totally sure, why not foster a dog first, before jumping into the deep end? Most humane societies, SPCAs, and animal rescue groups need volunteers to provide temporary homes and care for animals that are not yet ready for adoption. Fostering an animal can last anywhere from a week or two to a few months.

If you want to foster, check out www.petfinder.com to find a list of animal shelters and rescue groups in your area.

Not ready for a Fido of your own?

Sometimes the best way to love a dog is not to get one.

But not being ready to own a dog doesn’t mean you can’t still have canine companionship in your life. Read on for a few alternatives to dog ownership that you may not have thought of…(LINK to Not ready for Fido? page)

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